Elaine Chao, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to run
the Department of Transportation, steered clear of taking a position on
privatizing air traffic control (ATC) during her nomination hearing Wednesday
before the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce & Transportation.
"I'd like to get confirmed first," she joked in
response to a question about where she stands on the issue from Sen. Bill
Nelson (D-Fla.) the top ranking Democrat on the committee.
As part of the debate over FAA reauthorization last spring,
the House Transportation Committee passed a bill calling for management of ATC
to be shifted from the FAA to a nonprofit corporation overseen by a board of
Supporters of the measure argued that it would speed
implementation of NextGen, the GPS-based technology that is replacing the
radar-based system currently in use in the U.S., while removing ATC from the
uncertainty of the highly politicized appropriations process in Congress.
Opponents say that the process of reorganizing how the ATC
is administered would delay the implementation of NextGen and increase costs.
The bill caused a division between the House and the less
sympathetic Senate. U.S. airlines, too, were divided, with Delta sharply
opposing privatization while the trade group Airlines for America was its chief
The measures didn't make it into the 15-month FAA
reauthorization that Congress eventually passed in July, but House
transportation committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is widely expected to
reintroduce it this year when the next debate on reauthorization begins
Chao told the Senate commerce committee Wednesday that ATC privatization
is a huge issue that will require a national discussion and national consensus.
"The administration has not made a decision on this
point, and I expect that come Jan. 20 this will be one of the issues in which
the White House will have some say as to where the position of the administration
will be," she said. "I am open to all ideas."